U.S. grants visa to Zarif for U.N. meeting, limits his movement to 6 blocks

The comments come just a few days after US President Donald Trump pledged to "substantially" increase sanctions on Iran.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends India-Iran business forum in New Delhi, India, January 8, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/ANUSHREE FADNAVIS)
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends India-Iran business forum in New Delhi, India, January 8, 2019.
WASHINGTON - The United States has granted a visa to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to attend a U.N. meeting in New York this week, two sources familiar with the matter said on Sunday, saying Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had approved the decision.
Had Pompeo not approved giving Zarif, Iran's top diplomat and nuclear negotiator, a US visa it could have been a signal that the United States was trying to further isolate the Islamic Republic.
Although Pompeo approved Zarif's visa, he limited his movement to the UN headquarters, the Iranian embassy and his quarters - a total distance of six blocks.
“U.S. diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo added that “It’s absolutely appropriate that we provide Foreign Minister Zarif and his delegation with all the rights that they are due under the UN headquarters agreement, and nothing more than that."
US-Iranian tensions have worsened in recent months since US President Donald Trump's decision to try to halt Iran's oil exports because of concerns about its nuclear and missile programs and regional activities.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday insisted that the sanctions placed upon his country have not been devastating, but pledged to return to talks with the US if they lift the sanctions, according to the semi-official Iranian Fars news.
"Today anyone claiming that the Iranian nation's will and determination has weakened in light of these pressures [by the United States] has made an inappropriate statement and told a lie," Rouhani told a group of supporters in northern Iran.
Later, the president took a slightly different tone, saying on national television: "We have always believed in talks ... if they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere."
In his speech earlier on Sunday, Rouhani began by expressing the power of his country and the defiance and resistance showed by Iranians.
"It is now 14 months that the world's largest economic and military power has imposed the harshest sanctions against Iran; sanctions which could bring any nation to its knees. But the Iranian nation has resisted powerfully," Rouhani said.
Rouhani said that the United States had failed in its attempts to undermine the Islamic Republic through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations and the International Court of Justice.
"The US has also been condemned in our region. It has failed in Syria and Yemen," he said.
Tension has heightened between the longtime foes since US President Donald Trump last year withdrew from the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers and reimposed sanctions on Tehran that had been lifted under the pact.
The comments come just a few days after US President Donald Trump pledged to "substantially" increase sanctions on Iran.
"Iran has long been secretly 'enriching,' in total violation of the terrible 150 Billion Dollar deal made by John Kerry and the Obama Administration," Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday.

"Remember, that deal was to expire in a short number of years. Sanctions will soon be increased, substantially!"

Washington used the session of the International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors to accuse Iran of extortion after it inched past the deal's limit on enrichment levels over the past week, while still offering to hold talks with Tehran.
Iran says it is reacting to harsh US economic sanctions imposed on Tehran since Trump pulled Washington out of the nuclear deal in 2018 and says all its steps were reversible if Washington returned to the agreement.
While Iran was found to have had covert enrichment sites long before the nuclear accord, the 2015 deal imposed the most intrusive nuclear supervision on Iran of any country, and there has been no serious suggestion Iran is secretly enriching now in a way that would hint at an effort to develop a nuclear weapon.
The deal confines enrichment in Iran to its Natanz site, which was itself exposed in 2003. Any clandestine enrichment elsewhere would be a grave breach of the deal. It was not immediately clear from Trump’s comments whether he was referring to previous, long-known activities or making a new allegation.
Channel 13 reported on Thursday that the IAEA had found signs of radioactive material which would violate the 2015 nuclear deal at an Iranian nuclear site identified to the agency by Israeli intelligence.
According to the report, top Israeli sources believe the IAEA is sitting on the information and has avoided making it public to date.
In April, Reuters reported that the IAEA had finally visited the secret Iranian nuclear site at Turquzabad revealed in a September 2018 UN speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Since then, all parties to the US-Iran nuclear standoff have been waiting for the IAEA’s June announcement of its findings from that visit.
Reuters and Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.